NRL Grand Final 2023: Tina Turner tribute to headline entertainment, move slammed

Tina Turner rocked rugby league in the 1990s and the NRL grand final will go retro in 2023 with a musical tribute to the late superstar set to headline the pre-show entertainment.

The NRL family felt the passing of Turner in May as much as anyone in the world given the rock icon’s lasting impact on the game through arguably one of the greatest marketing campaigns in Australian sport, rugby league‘s “Simply the Best” campaign in 1990.

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Turner died in May at the age of 83 after a long illness and on grand final day the cast of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, which is playing in Sydney, will sing some of her greatest hits before the match.

“Thirty years on, Tina Turner’s 1993 performance remains one of the great Grand Final moments,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said:

“This collaboration is a perfect way for Rugby League to pay tribute to Tina and everything she did for our game and it will be a special moment for fans amongst the outstanding entertainment on offer on grand final day.”

The musical features iconic songs including “Simply The Best”, “Nutbush” and “Proud Mary” which will be blasted out again on grand final day on October 1 this year.

The NRL and NRLW premiership matches mark 30 years since Turner‘s celebrated performance at the 1993 grand final when she sang with Jimmy Barnes.

While the nostalgic choice by the NRL delighted many fans, the decision went down like a lead balloon with a large section of fans insisting the game could have done much better.

NRL great Wendell Sailor was particularly scathing of the decision, saying while he was a fan of Tina Turner, the game had “droppped the ball” by not finding a headline act for grand final day.

“I’m disappointed to be honest… look I love Tina Turner, I met her a couple of times, but I think we as the NRL should do better, our fans deserve better,” Sailor told Triple M.

“We could get someone from around the world. The AFL has got KISS and we got a take-off of Tina Turner.

“They need a headline act, they need to go all in, they dropped the ball again.”

Sailor’s sentiment was shared by many NRL fans, who flooded the comments section of the NRL’s official grand final entertainment announcement post on X (formerly Twitter).

“I think that if this was a secondary act somewhere during the day it would have been a nice & fitting tribute. However having it as the main entertainment seems a bit cheap. I bet it cost 10% of what they normally pay,” one NRL fan wrote.

“Love Tina but this is cheap. I could go down to the the local RSL to watch covers of songs if I needed to. How cheap are they. Embarrassing,” wrote another.

“The AFL gets Global Superstars, KISS, meanwhile the NRL gets some woman most people have never heard of, banging out covers of Tina Turner,” a third fan wrote.

“Is that really the best you can do NRL? No wonder the AFL runs rings around the NRL.”

Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief Sports Writer Andrew Webster fired back at the criticism writing on X: “Why all the hate for Tina The Musical performing at NRL GF?

“She gave the game its eternal anthem and opened up rugby league to a whole new audience; there was much sadness when she passed away earlier this year. Entirely appropriate she’s being honoured at this year’s decider.”

NRL.com journalist Alicia Newton also backed the NRL’s decision: “Those hammering the NRL for Tina Turner musical headlining the GF have clearly not seen it yet. It’s outstanding, the best musical I’ve ever seen, and the perfect season to do it.

“Ruva Ngwenya (who plays Tina) is an outstanding talent who will light up the stadium.”

The entertainment line-up on grand final day will also include two performances from Northern Territory rock band King Stingray which performs in English and YolNGu Matha languages.

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